Cato Institute

Bernie Sanders At Liberty U & Pope Francis At CATO

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke on Monday morning at Liberty University. Liberty was founded by Jerry Falwell and has, under his son’s leadership, grown to be a huge and influential part of the Religious Right’s cultural infrastructure. The school has a tradition of drawing attention to itself by inviting politicians to its mandatory student convocations.

Sanders stated upfront and unapologetically that he is pro-choice and pro-gay and that he knew most of the people in the audience disagreed with him about that. His speech focused on the themes of economic hardship and inequality, urging students to grapple with the morality and injustice of poverty, huge income and wage gaps, children dying for lack of health care and Republican budget proposals to slash safety-net spending for poor children and families. Sanders, who was raised Jewish but currently claims no religious ties, quoted Pope Francis’s critique of the global economy and warnings against the “idolatry” of money.

Sanders was received politely, but there was plenty of resistance to his message, and not just on abortion or marriage equality.  Nick Corasaniti at the New York Times reported from the event:

“Calling on us to help the neediest, that resonates with me as a Christian,” said Quincy Thompson, the student body president, who had a chance to briefly meet Mr. Sanders after the event. “But as a Christian, I think the responsibility to help them falls to the church, not the government.”

The idea that helping the poor is not a job for the government but for the church is a core teaching of Christian Reconstructionism that has spread throughout the Religious Right, the Tea Party, and the Republican Party, carried by people like David Barton and Michael Peroutka.

Liberty’s President Jerry Falwell, Jr. also took exception to Sanders’ approach to economics, sticking with the gospel of small government:

“I think it was Margaret Thatcher who said that the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview after the event, making the case that he thought working toward a limited government and lowering taxes would “create the tide that rises all ships.”

A different strain of the Right took on a similar theme on Tuesday, when panelists at the libertarian CATO Institute, whose lobby features a quote from Ayn Rand, addressed Pope Francis’ critique of the  global economic system at an event titled, “Blessing or Scourge? Capitalism through the Eyes of Pope Francis.” Francis will visit Washington, D.C. next week.

Catholic University of America President John Garvey and National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters portrayed Francis’ statements as well within the tradition of Catholic social justice teaching and in line with comments from his papal predecessors.

Jay Richards is an assistant professor in the business school at Catholic University and a senior fellow at the creationist Discovery Institute who authored a 2010 book called “Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem.” Richards, whose Twitter handle is @FreemarketJay, suggested that Francis’ views on capitalism may have been distorted by his experience in Argentina, which Richards says ranks near the bottom on “economic freedom” indicators. The pope’s beef is not really with free-market capitalism, he says, but with the kind of cronyism and corporatism found in his home country— an argument that has been advanced by other Catholic conservatives but doesn’t reflect the scope of Francis’s critique of current global economic and financial systems.

The CATO panel was moderated by Marian Tupy, editor of CATO’s project. Tupy argued that the pope is ignoring evidence that capitalism has lifted millions of people out of poverty. Two of Tupy's articles critical of Francis’s economic critiques were distributed at the event, one of which concluded condescendingly, “Pope Francis has a big heart, but his credibility as a voice of justice and morality would be immeasurably improved if he based his statements on facts.”



Charles Murray Wants Right Wing To Use Scientology Strategy In Legal War On U.S. Government

Right-wing think tanker Charles Murray’s latest book is coming out this week, and it offers a plan “to make large chunks of the Federal Code of Regulations unenforceable.” In other words, he says, “I want to pour sugar into the regulatory state’s gas tank.”

Not surprisingly, Murray’s anti-regulation manifesto is being giddily promoted by right-wing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Murray’s institutional home, as well as the CATO Institute, the State Policy Network, and right-wing pundits like National Review’s Jonah Goldberg and Fox News’s John Stossel.

Murray is probably best known as co-author of “The Bell Curve,” which infamously explored theories on race and intelligence. His new book, “By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission,” is a call to “massive civil disobedience” to government regulations: “The government cannot enforce its mountain of laws and regulations without voluntary compliance. Let’s have a private-sector counterweight that pulls back the curtain and exposes the Wizard’s weakness.”

Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozada wrote recently, “If ‘Atlas Shrugged’ had been written by a despondent social scientist instead of a dyspeptic novelist, it would read a lot like ‘By the People’.”

Murray says his book grew out of frustration over the experience of a friend, who he describes as an honest businessman unjustly harassed by arrogant federal bureaucrats. Murray’s solution is to have one or a few anti-government billionaires kick in to create “The Madison Fund,” a legal group that would flood the government with lawsuits challenging the enforcement of regulations they deem unnecessary. As AEI cheerfully explains in its cartoonish graphic: “Even the largest government agency cannot afford to carry a large number of small legal cases that are strung out for as long as the law permits. Goliath cannot win against hundreds of Davids.”

That is exactly the strategy used by the Church of Scientology in its long-running war on the Internal Revenue Service. Murray doesn’t credit Scientology leader David Miscavige, but it sure seems like he should.

Journalist Lawrence Wright covered Scientology’s legal strategy in his 2013 book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” which was the basis for this year’s HBO documentary on the church. Wright reported that Scientology besieged the IRS with 200 lawsuits from the church and more than 2,300 lawsuits on behalf of individual parishioners in every jurisdiction in the country, “overwhelming government lawyers, running up fantastic expenses, and causing an immense amount of havoc inside the IRS.” Miscavige boasted that church lawyers had so exhausted the IRS’s legal budget that the agency couldn’t afford to send its lawyers to an American Bar Association conference.

That is what Murray wants to do to agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Scott Ott, cheering Murray on at PJ Media, puts it this way:

“By flooding the zone, Murray hopes to cripple the ability of the regulatory state to fight a multi-front war against we, the people….Murray would overwhelm government agencies to get them to stop arbitrary enforcement actions; to leave us alone except in situations that genuinely threaten public health and safety. He likens it to the way police don’t stop every speeding car, but only those that pose the greatest threat to the well-being of others.”

Murray does say he is not opposed to all regulation. But it’s not clear who will make those judgment calls, especially given that Murray’s examples of unnecessary government regulation include meat safety inspections (!) and health regulations applied to dental offices. Murray says supermarket chains and the American Dental Association should be trusted to police their own, with the threat of bad publicity on social media providing sufficient incentive.

Murray’s plan includes another strategy used by the Church of Scientology. Murray says the Madison Fund will wage public relations campaigns to ridicule government regulations and the officials enforcing them. Wright documents that Scientology supplemented its legal war on the IRS with ads featuring celebrities, including non-Scientologists, who had been audited or otherwise had tangled with the IRS.

The legal war waged by Scientology worked, winning the church official recognition as a tax-exempt religion and all the legal protections that came with it when the IRS caved. Wright says that IRS Commissioner Fred Goldberg “had to balance the longing on the part of some of his executives to destroy the church against the need to keep his resources, both human and financial, from being sucked into the black hole that Scientology had created.”

At least Scientology officials had just one goal – official recognition — and backed off once they won that battle. In contrast, Murray envisions an ongoing, wide-ranging, black-hole-creating campaign that he openly admits is an end-run around the democratic process, which has failed to produce the radical restrictions in government that libertarians are looking for.

In fact, Murray is remarkably down on the democratic process. “You are not going to roll back the reach of government through the political process,” he declares. “It can’t be done.”

Murray admits he is “a lot more overtly hostile toward the government – toward what’s been done to the American project – than I have ever been before.” He argues that the U.S. is the only country ever founded on a charter designed to limit the power of government, and “from 1789 to the 1930s is the sole example of minimal government anywhere, at any time.” Since the New Deal, however, government has grown in ways that can no longer be reversed, even by electing Republicans. Says Murray, “Attacking the regulatory state through the legal system is the only option for rebuilding liberty.”

Murray says he fears for America’s limited-government “soul.” It will be interesting to see how many conservatives agree that saving America’s soul means pushing the country back toward a pre-New Deal reality by a systematic campaign of legal harassment designed to prevent much of the federal government from doing its work.

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